If you need some music to last you a few decades

Published 6:28 pm Friday, August 3, 2018

I have figured out something about getting older: The reason we look back so much is because a great deal more real estate lies back behind us than what is out front.

As of today — Saturday, Aug. 4 — the real estate behind me just extended a bit more.

With even more history to choose from than ever before, I have been glancing back a bit more than usual — I mean, way back, all the way to 1974. In the summer of 1974 I was fresh from walking across my first stage since graduating from Callaway kindergarten a dozen years earlier. That year contained a good many milestones, including meeting what are now some old friends who hail from the state of Virginia. You may know this quartet of fine gentlemen called the Statler Brothers.

Whatever scenes I’ve enjoyed since 1974, the Statler Brothers serenaded me and my family right through them, from the first verse to the last refrain. Oh, yes, the breathtaking snapshots are many: From walking innocently down the aisle after the amazin’ blonde finally ran me down and caught me, to holding two angels in my arms and asking the Lord, “Now what?”

The Statlers had a song each time to put the event into context. Fifteen years ago, the amazin’ blonde and I visited the hometown of those Statlers. We were on the way home from New Jersey where we had visited our son Malachi who had taken a job 4000 miles from home — or, so it seemed. We stopped by Staunton, Virginia on the way back and visited the Statlers’ offices. Since Harold, Don, Jimmy and Phil had sung their last song together the October before, they had downsized; and their office was just a small brick building on the outskirts of town.

We strolled through the gift shop for a while, then began our long journey back to Texas, plugging in the CD we had bought at their office of their farewell concert held in Salem, Virginia, the previous October.

It was quite an experience listening to the four-part harmony as we had done for three decades, and driving through the Shenandoah Valley with the towering blue-shaded Shenandoah Mountains painted in the distance.

And — I can tell this now — a tear or two were threatening to emerge in the corner of the eyes.

I’m not sure exactly what it was that made that drive a bit emotional, probably many things. It was having just left my son over a thousand miles from home up in New Jersey. He was far away, chasing a dream like a baseball pitcher the Statlers once sang about. Dream-chasing can be good, but it can also leave a little void back home. You understand.

Along that drive, I thought back to one of the first songs I ever heard the Statler sing, in 1974, one called “Daddy.” That memory, by the way, didn’t do anything to discourage those watery eyes I was trying to hide from the amazin’ blonde as she sat next to me.

We listened to the Statlers sing “How Great Thou Art” while we were still beneath the shadow of those Shenadoah Mountains, and I remembered listening to their rendition of that great hymn on the radio back in the early 80s as I was heading out to the brick job to make a living for a wife and two young ones the Lord had put in my hands. Going to work and work and developing rough hands was the answer the Lord gave to the question of, “What now?” that I had asked in 1977 when Rachel came along.

The drive, the mountains, the music — together they blended to assist me in harmonizing forty years — the victories, the defeats, the mistakes, the banners, the exhilarating hikes up the mountain and the journeys way down low in those valleys.

Some of those journeys carried us down as low as the ol’ bass singer Harold himself can sing, and others would send us so high on the mountain that tenor Jimmy Fortune would have to tip-toe to hit a note to match.

I guess a little extra emotion came from wondering whose music would inspire and carry us the rest of the way, as we would climb a few more steep hills that loom ahead and descend the slopes that come when the birthday celebrations add up.

It is good to know that we can plug in a Statler song any time — maybe “I’ll Go To My Grave Loving You” or “Class of ‘57” — and lean back and pretend it’s 1974 all over again. I didn’t realize back then how little real estate lay behind me.

And how much good music loomed ahead.